Horatius at the Bridge

“But the Consul’s brow was sad, and the Consul’s speech was low,
And darkly looked he at the wall, and darkly at the foe.
“Their van will be upon us before the bridge goes down;
And if they once might win the bridge, what hope to save the town?”

Then out spake brave Horatius, the Captain of the Gate:
“To every man upon this earth, death cometh soon or late;
And how can man die better than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods.

Hew down the bridge, Sir Consul, with all the speed ye may!
I, with two more to help me, will hold the foe in play.
In yon strait path, a thousand may well be stopped by three:
Now, who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?’

____

Back darted Spurius Lartius; Herminius darted back:
And as they passed, beneath their feet they felt the timbers crack.
But when they turned their faces, and on the further shore
Saw brave Horatius stand alone, they would have crossed once more.

But with a crash like thunder fell every loosened beam,
And, like a dam, the mighty wreck lay right athwart the stream:
And a loud shout of triumph rose from the walls of Rome,
As to the highest turret-tops was splashed the yellow foam.

____

Alone stood brave Horatius, but constant still in mind;
Thrice thirty thousand foes before, and the broad flood behind.
“Down with him!” cried false Sextus, with a smile on his pale face.
“Now yield thee”, cried Lars Porsena, “now yield thee to our grace!”

Round turned he, as not deigning those craven ranks to see;
Nought spake he to Lars Porsena, to Sextus nought spake he;
But he saw on Palatinus the white porch of his home;
And he spake to the noble river that rolls by the towers of Rome.

“Oh Tiber, father Tiber, to whom the Romans pray,
A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms, take thou in charge this day!”
So he spake and, speaking, sheathed the good sword by his side,
And, with his harness on his back, plunged headlong in the tide.

No sound of joy or sorrow was heard from either bank;
But friends and foes in dumb surprise, with parted lips and straining eyes,
Stood gazing where he sank;
And when above the surges they saw his crest appear,
All Rome sent forth a rapturous cry, and even the ranks of Tuscany
Could scarce forbear to cheer.

____

Never, I ween, did swimmer, in such an evil case,
Struggle through such a raging flood safe to the landing place:
But his limbs were borne up bravely by the brave heart within,
And our good father Tiber bare bravely up his chin.

____

And still his name sounds stirring unto the men of Rome,
As the trumpet-blast that calls to them to charge the Volscian home;
And wives still pray to Juno for boys with hearts as bold
As his who kept the bridge so well in the brave days of old.

Choice parts of Horatius at the bridge

From Ancient Lays of Rome

Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay

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